Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Patent Review Crowdsourcing

I am continually amazed at the amount of knowledge one must posess to become a successful entrepreneur. Intellectual property is something that all new entrepreneurs know is important, and often crucial to securing investments. But like every other aspect of entrepreneur-ism, there is a ton of information to understand, and since you don't have the money to pay an expert, you must become an expert yourself.

This morning I attended a seminar put on by a local law firm on intellectual property - trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and patents. Very informative, but after hearing about the patent process from patent filers, legal professionals, backed up by previous research on my own, I think this process needs an overhaul. Although not stated explicitly, I feel like the general consensus of the crowd was that the process is a bit of a joke. Unfortunately, like other inefficient government monopolies, there isn't much choice and besides, it keeps patent attorneys busy. Some of the interesting comments raised were:

  • 'patent pending' = 'copy it quick',
  • it can often take 2 years to even get a patent looked at,
  • the pace of technology (for which many patents are filed) is too fast for the patent process. (eg. - a shrewd business could copy a patent, get in, make some money and get out before the patent is completed),
  • general debate around what does 'non-obvious' mean.

I would propose that the patent office look at opening up patent review to the masses (ie. Patent Crowdsourcing). This would allow the community, or many skill communities to filter the patents among other things, against the 3 standards for useful, novel, non-obvious. Now, of course this would often require that the crowd be 'skilled in the arts' of the patent, but understanding the skills of the individuals could be part of the registration process. Yes some would a higher level of expertise than others, but that is why crowd sourcing is effective, in that over a period of time with a large number of people weighing in, ranking, commenting etc, it will give the patent process a jump start. The patent database is already available to the public. All that is lacking is the right tool to facilitate this process. Now, given that web 2.0 collaboration tools are starting to come into their own, these tools could be assembled into a simple application that sits on top of the patent database. This brings forward a wealth of possibilities, making the data much more useful. For example, allowing users the ability to using tagging techniques dynamically bookmark patents they find during their research tagging what they consider similar patents, user generated folksonomies etc. However useful the data is for people scanning the database, in the end, this is about customer satisfaction, with the customers being the companies and individuals filing the patents. I feel that this would not only reduce the patent process cycle time but also allow better decisions to be made about valid and invalid patents. This would be similar to the type of community that supports wikipedia, and although some say that wikipedia is a one-time phenomenon in the pure user content community (with no apparent incentive), I think this could be another example that would work on this model. Yes, by the nature of our society, lawyers will still likely be required, however this offers a relatively free way to make a broken process more effective.

Note: After writing this, I quickly googled 'Patent Crowdsourcing', and low and behold, another person has had similar musings a couple months back as well as more recently. Great minds think alike I guess... This also brings to bear another truism of the entrepreneur - 'Never be naive enough to think that someone else isn't also working on a similar concept, however in the end its about execution - not the idea' :) I wonder if someone has filed a patent for this yet?


Kevin said...

Additional article on a related topic regarding current state of patent systems - Information Week Oct 30/2006

Kevin Donaldson said...

Google now offers patent search. Although limited in its key words. True patent search needs a semantic search.